Cyberbullying: Social Distanced Bullying

How is the pandemic affecting bullying & cyberbullying; what can we do to prevent it?

Cyberbullying on rise pandemic tips

Our current day, as administrators, involves so much with schools, “return to learn” plans, and mental health for students, teachers, and parents; Covid19 response has taken over our world, and rightfully so. Although these issues have been prioritized, bullying has become cyberbullying; it has not disappeared and still requires our attention.

In a school administration meeting this past week I had the opportunity to chat with one of the elementary principals. I asked her how classroom behaviors have been.

“I am glad you asked,” she replied. “We have had only one behavior incident during the first six weeks of the school year in our building.”

“That is fantastic,” I stated to her. “Regardless of what is taking place around us, at least we can take some solace that when kids are in school, we are mostly doing the intended purpose of teaching and learning.”

Due to covid19, in-class numbers have been cut in half, thus the attention students get from teachers is elevated when those students are in the school building. The benefit of reduced student numbers is it’s far more difficult for anyone to disguise a negative behavior into the crowd and get away with whatever they intended to do. Reducing office referrals and behavior incidents surely is a win, right? The fact that one elementary school did not have a single bullying incident reported is great: not one school bus or bathroom incident of a child feeling overpowered by a group, no playground or cafeteria issues. For one six-week period no child felt the need to hide for their personal safety.

I can’t help but think that with everything students are being asked to navigate these days in a hybrid schooling world, a world that embeds newly adapted mitigation efforts into the lives of children, at least we have removed the fear of bullying temporarily, right?  As we attempt adaptation to a “new normal” and create balances to match the newly minted life stressors we all face, maybe it is a blessing that children have a brief reprieve from the fear of bullies.

As I reflected further on the conversation that took place, I wondered how things would have been different for students that we could not help in previous years. I thought about the Sioux City-based move “Bully” and The Bully Project that is nearly 10 years old and wondered at our progress? Have we made progress and how do we measure it?

The thing is, while we champion the fact that face-to-face bullying has decreased in schools and society, it has not disappeared. In a culture where in-person interaction has dramatically declined, we have inevitably adapted methods to online. As far as bullying, this is not a new idea, if anything the pandemic has only enhanced the issue of online bullying since March. An April 2020 report published by L1ght (an AI startup that detects and filters abusive online content) found that hate speech between children and teens on social platforms increased a staggering 70% in just over a month after schools transitioned to online learning. Those numbers are expected to remain higher going into the fall school calendar than in previous years.

It is not surprising that when unsupervised, students find a way to bully others. The enhanced climate of sexism and racism in our country only serves to increase the anxiety among the student body. Even if its not apparent in person, doesn’t mean it’s not happening online.

A few last thoughts: even though cyberbullying and bullying is still very much alive, and this year is so far removed from our expectations, let’s continue to make the best of the school experiences we are having. Actively work to celebrate that they are going as well as they can in view of the circumstances. One day we will be back in-person at work, school, and socially. As we move back to a semblance of “normal,” remember that this issue of bullying and cyberbullying is far from gone. It is all of our collective responsibilities to eliminate bullying for good.

At New Life Counseling we wish to empower our readers and clients to create a better life for themselves. We cannot do the work for you, but we aim to provide you the necessary tools.

Here are 8 tips from and to help children combat cyberbullying:

  1. Don’t respond. Your reaction is what your bully craves- it gives him or her power over you. Don’t empower your bully or allow them that control.
  2. Don’t retaliate. It might feel good momentarily to retaliate, but that only turns you into a bully and reinforces their behavior. By not retaliating you are avoiding a cycle of aggression.
  3. Save the evidence. The good news about cyberbullying is that harassing messages can be screen captured, saved, and shown to someone who can help you. Even if it seems minor, this step is important in case things escalate.
  4. Talk to a trusted adult. You deserve backup. A parent is always a good choice, but if you can’t, a school counselor usually knows how to help. Sometimes both are needed. If you are really nervous, see about reporting the incident anonymously at school.
  5. Block the bully. If the harassment is coming in the form of instant message, direct message, texts, or profile comments: use preferences or privacy tools to block the person. There are so many social tools that allow you to do this without your bully ever even knowing about it.
  6. Be civil. Even if you don’t like a person, be decent; don’t sink to their level. Research shows that gossiping and trash talking others increases your risk of being bullied. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
  7. Don’t be a bully. How would you feel if someone harassed you? It only takes a few seconds to think about how your actions would make someone else feel. Put yourself in their shoes before you send that message, comment, or text. Make it a habit to pause and think before you act.
  8. Be a friend, not a bystander. Watching, engaging, or forwarding mean messages empowers bullies and hurts victims more. If possible, tell the bully to stop or let them know harassment makes people look stupid and mean. It’s time to let bullies know their behavior is unacceptable, cruel abuse of fellow humans. If you can’t stop the bully, at least try to help the victim, and report the behavior.

There are more great tips for parents in the sources below

If you or your child is suffering from anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts due to bullying or cyberbullying- know that you are not alone. Please use the contact form and reach out to us today. We have 14 therapists who are trained and equipped to help you navigate these challenges.

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.